June 25 2021
The amateur sleuths are out in force in this issue. In The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood, a veteran setter of cryptic crossword puzzles turns her hand to solving crime when a shocking event leads to a trail of murder that only Judith and her friends can solve. Viv Beeby says that the trio display a lot of courage and resourcefulness in this entertaining read. Cats get in on the act too, much to the consternation of the dog-loving John Cleal, who was sucked into Kate High’s cosy, The Cat and the Corpse in the Old Barn in which ceramic artist Clarice Beech ends up lying on a decomposing body after a fall as she attempts to capture an escaped cat. John enjoyed the clever plotting and the well-drawn characters and was even able to put aside his dislike of cats!
If you want a slice of English life, then the two Johns (sounds like a couple of nightclub bouncers or a second-rate folk duo) are here to help. In I Saw Him Die by Andrew Wilson, the Queen of Crime herself, best-selling author and detective Agatha Christie is asked by the British intelligence service to investigate a series of threats to a former agent. John Cleal says this is a well-plotted, hugely entertaining classic whodunit filled with plenty of red herrings and double-crosses and he advises anyone who loves Christie in the original to read this entertaining and clever series. John Barnbrook enjoyed A Little London Scandal by Miranda Emmerson and its powerful descriptions of London in the 1960s; a time where social mores resulted in a clandestine world of sexuality and corruption. John says this extremely readable book is fairly simple, but flavoured with twists and complications, as well as being beautifully described. And if you fancy some wider travel around the UK (England, Wales and Scotland …) then try Letters From the Dead by Sam Hurcom. It features photographer Thomas Bexley, who has become a drunken recluse, haunted by visions of the dead after a dreadful case in Wales. When news of a spate of kidnappings rouses his interest, he learns that his friend and mentor is a major suspect but soon Bexley finds himself accused of a string of murders. John C describes the book as creepy, disturbing, eerie, dark, spine-chilling and macabre in every way that a Gothic thriller should be.
We’re delighted to welcome on board a new reviewer this week. Kerry Hood is an old friend of the site and her encouragement is one of the reasons that Crime Review was born. We still fondly remember the time we met her for the first time in person, practically hysterical with laughter after Sharon’s unfortunate incident with an entire bottle of orange perfume. Linda’s declaration that Sharon was ‘moist but fragrant’ didn’t faze Kerry at all, so we’re confident she’ll fit in well around here! David Mark is one of Kerry’s favourite authors and in Cages, a single mother on the run with her son from her traumatic past has found a place as a guard in one of Britain’s northern prisons but her new existence is turned on its head by a highly intelligent inmate with escape on his mind. Kerry says Mark is brilliant at blind-siding the reader in the most entertaining of ways and despite the blood, gore, terrible harm and decay, she was thoroughly engrossed.
Linda Wilson has returned to one of her favourite police series. MW Craven’s entertaining duo DS Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw of the National Crime Agency are called in to investigate a murder at a pop-up brothel and its connections to an important summit being held nearby. Dead Ground combines humour and dark themes to good effect, and for Linda, a storyline involving antiquity theft was an unexpected bonus. She says this series continues to go from strength to twisted strength – and she even turns a blind eye to the quirky names! And Linda was also impressed by I Spy, former soldier Tom Marcus’s account of his time as a member of an MI5 surveillance team, saying he brings the sharp edge of utter authenticity to his story that only an insider can achieve. The code names were enough to keep her reading even by themselves. Magenta Stoat? Yep, people had to keep a straight face using that on the radio. Marcus doesn’t shy away from the mental effects of his job, either, and presents a stark picture of his own severe PTSD.
Chris Roberts starts his usual globe-trotting with a trip Down Under in A Madness of Sunshine where a woman returning to her remote rural birthplace is caught up in the disappearance of a young woman, amidst the close-knit local community’s fears that there is a serial killer is close to home. Chris says fantasy author Nalini Singh’s first venture into crime fiction sustained his interest with well-paced plot developments and a steady flow of revelations from the past. Then it was over to Alaska for Spoils of the Dead where Trooper Liam Campbell and his partner Wy have resettled in a coastal town but they’ve barely arrived when a local archaeologist is brutally murdered, in an echo of a homicide some 30 years ago. Dana Stabenow proves to be a good guide to the Alaskan landscape in her latest series, says Chris. He also enjoyed his visit to India for How to Kidnap the Rich by Rahul Raina. Ramesh Kumar scrapes a living in Delhi by exploiting his talent for passing examinations, but when one of his clients does surprisingly well the opportunity for sharing in the rewards is irresistible. Chris liked the gentle humour of Ramesh’s narration and says the characters’ comments are both pithy and revealing in a book that manages to be both amusing and hard-hitting. With barely a pause for breath Chris was then off to Japan for the unusual Tokyo Redux by David Peace where the death of a prominent official in the 1940s is explored through the lives of fictional characters. Chris says the powerful narrative veers from short, punchy sentences to almost stream of consciousness.
On the Euro beat, John Cleal was impressed by Anja de Jager’s A Death at the Hotel Mondrian. When Dutch detective Lotte Meerman is approached by a man claiming to be someone who has been dead for more than 30 years, she ignores him, but later regrets her decision when she finds he’s committed suicide. John says this tightly-written, cleverly plotted whodunit will keep you guessing almost to the final page. Sylvia Maughan returned to Italy, her favourite holiday destination, courtesy of The House With Three Eyes by John Harding. There’s drama on the plane when an elderly man dies and due to a baggage mix-up, a woman becomes involved in the mystery surrounding his death. Sylvia particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Venice but says this is a book that might be best read in one sitting to navigate the very complex plot with its numerous inter-related characters.
Scandi queen Ewa Sherman enjoyed The Carrier by Mattias Berg. After years of leading a double life as an academic and member of an elite security team Erasmus Levine decides to flee. The problem is that he does it during the presidential visit to Sweden while he’s physically attached to a nuclear briefcase. Unsurprisingly, he soon he becomes the world’s most wanted man. Ewa says the book will make you think and question what we really know about nuclear programmes. She initially struggled with Romy Hausmann’s Sleepless, not knowing where the story was going or even who the main character was, as a woman ends up with no choice other than to deliver a body to help a friend. But the strong opening drew Ewa in and kept her reading.
Across the Pond, big names Bill Clinton and veteran thriller writer James Patterson combine to good effect in The President’s Daughter to produce plenty of action and political machinations at the highest level as former US president Matthew Keating sets out to save his kidnapped daughter from her kidnappers. Linda Wilson says this is a dramatic, very entertaining thriller in which the female characters nab as much of the limelight as the men. The Shot by the late Philip Kerr looks at an earlier period in US history with Cuban president Fidel Castro proving so unpopular after a year in office that elements in the US Government and the mob decide to arrange an assassination. Chris Roberts says that as usual with Kerr, a convincing background intertwines with a gripping story line to produce a clever, cynical and twisty thriller.
Elsewhere, Pretty Guilty Women by Gina Lamanna also got off to a good start for Kati Barr-Taylor with murder at a wedding. Kati praises a fun plot that drew her in with sneaky little question after sneaky little question surfaced – but she does comment that at times the story threatens to disappear in a ton of cotton wool minutiae and irrelevances. CJ Skuse is one of Kati’s favourite authors and her latest offering, The Alibi Girl, certainly didn’t disappoint. Joanne, a doctor, author and single mother scraping a living now has a target on her head as well. Kati loves Skuse’s gift for creating characters that leap off the page and into your heart and describes this as a vibrant, sharply sardonic, and genuinely entertaining crime thriller. John Cleal also enjoyed Highland Fling by Sara Sheridan, which sees ex-secret service investigator Mirabelle Bevan’s holiday become fraught with danger when her arrival is greeted by the murder of a Russian/American fashion buyer. John says the book is clever and well-written, conveying a sense of character, charm and even a certain amount of fun.
It’s a quiet issue for historicals. John Cleal dived into Blood Runs Thicker, the latest in one of his favourite series in company with Sarah Hawkswood’s main character Undersheriff of Worcester Hugh Bradecote and his associates, the cynical Sergeant Catchpoll and his apprentice Walkelin who have to solve the mystery of the death of the unpopular and bullying manor lord Osbern de Lench. John says one of the abiding themes in Hawkswood’s work is the almost uniformly bleak situation of women of the period. The problem of how to handle subjects where modern-day sensibilities differ so markedly from the mores of the time is one she tackles head-on in a credible way with her believable and well-presented characters. Chris Roberts was reminded of the fashion in the 18th century for novels in the form of letters when he read Matt Wesolowski’s Deity. When a celebrated but secretive pop star dies in mysterious circumstances, some acclaim him a gentle genius, others see him as a predatory paedophile. Chris says the whole thing was very well done.
Our YA offering this week is Syed M Masood’s More Than Just a Pretty Face. Danyal Jilani is used to being a constant source of disappointment to his father. Danyal is funny and drop-dead gorgeous but that isn’t likely to lead to a good job, and academic success isn’t his strong point, so when he’s unwillingly thrust into an academic championship, life is going to get problematic. Linda Wilson says that on one level the book is a teen romance but on another, it’s a cleverly crafted polemic against one of the UK’s iconic heroes, Sir Winston Churchill, whose policies contributed to the disastrous Bengal famine in 1943 that killed up to three million people.
In the Countdown slot this week we have author Rachel Ward who started her writing career with YA thrillers but has now turned to crime. We’ll happily invite ourselves to tea if her hot leek, beetroot and walnut salad is on offer!
Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...
‘Hey Baby, Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it.’ (From Rollercoaster, Ronan Keating.
Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...
Hole punch, face cream, camera, cup containing dog treats, miniature supermarket trolley, painting of Swanage beach, Easter chick, 4B pencil stub, phone charger.
Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?
A hot salad of sauteed leeks, beetroot and walnuts. Yum.